NEWS: Israel not the promised land for Russian sex slaves

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Jyothi Kanics---Global Survival Network (jkanics@igc.apc.org)
Tue, 25 Aug 1998 06:08:34 -0700 (PDT)


Israel not the promised land for Russian sex slaves
By Elisabeth Eaves

NEVE TIRZA PRISON, Israel, Aug 24 (Reuters) - Blue-eyed Lyubov, 17, arrived
in Israel from a Russian coal mining city only to be sold into prostitution.

Now she sits in a prison cell awaiting expulsion as an illegal worker.

Six months ago, a man in Lyubov's hometown told the young woman he could
get her a plane ticket, a visa and a job abroad. She entered Israel with a
tour group and was met by a hotel owner who befriended her and gave her a
job as a cleaner in exchange for a room.

The hotel owner introduced her to friends, showed her around and taught her
some Hebrew until one day he told her to get out of his car and into
another. Then he drove away.

``At first I didn't know I had been sold. Then my owner told me he had
bought me for $9,000,'' Lyubov said in an interview in a prison office. Her
new ``owner,'' as she calls him, told her she would work as a call girl.

It was the beginning of a stint as an unpaid prostitute -- part of an
international crime phenomenon which women's groups see as a modern slave
trade.

At any one time, as many as 100 women like Lyubov may be awaiting
deportation in Neve Tirza women's prison near Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion
airport, a prison spokeswoman said.

The non-profit Israel Women's Network estimates that 70 percent of
prostitutes in Tel Aviv, Israel's commercial centre, come from the former
Soviet republics, and that about 1,000 women are brought into Israel
illegally each year.

PROSTITUTION INDUSTRY

``This is a whole industry -- recruiting them, bringing them and
distributing them to all of the parlours,'' said Efraim Ehrlich, former
commander of the Tel Aviv vice squad.

And the economic hardship in the former Soviet Union has made them
especially easy prey for the human trafficking networks feeding the industry.

Police in Israel say they are powerless to stop the flow of trafficked
women until the laws change.

``They are very much afraid to come to the police and complain, so the
police really can't do anything,'' said spokeswoman Linda Menuhin.

``The problem is there is no law against trafficking people, and no law
against prostitution.''

But Rachel Benziman, legal adviser to the Israel Women's Network, said
there are a variety of crimes -- rape, abduction, battery, deceit and theft
-- which the authorities rarely bother to prosecute for, even though they
have the power to do so.

``LIKE A CAR''

Amir, a Tel Aviv pimp who refused to give his last name, said a woman could
cost up to $20,000, depending on her looks.

``It's like a car. It depends how valuable she is,'' he said, standing on a
street lined with flashing lights advertising brothels near Tel Aviv's old
central bus station.

Lyubov's ``owner'' kept her and eight other women in two apartments. He
never paid any of them but instead said they were indebted to him for their
plane tickets and every expense incurred, from doctors' visits to haircuts.

Transported to clients by drivers and often under guard, Lyubov had sex
with an average of six men a day for about $75 an hour. All she could keep
were tips.

She worked round the clock, seven days a week, with no holidays except for
Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.

``You have to have very strong nerves to do this kind of work,'' she said.

Though crime networks distribute women throughout the world, Hebrew
University criminologist Menachem Amir said Israel's appetite for
prostitutes may be bolstered by three groups -- foreign workers, Orthodox
Jews and Arabs.

Many of Israel's nearly 200,000 legal and illegal foreign workers are
young, unattached men likely to buy sex.

Amir said Arabs and Orthodox Jews have ``very strong taboos against sexual
connections outside of marriage and therefore go to a place where they can
do it more anonymously.''

``It's a matter of supply and demand,'' he said.

BACKLASH AGAINST IMMIGRANTS

Meanwhile, the prostitutes from the former Soviet Union have contributed to
a backlash against the more than 630,000 legal immigrants Israel has
absorbed from the region since the late 1980s.

Mostly Russian, they are often stereotyped as having brought crime and
prostitution while exploiting Israeli laws enabling anyone with a Jewish
grandparent to immigrate.

A poll by the Women's Network showed 44 percent of Israelis believed all
Russian immigrant women provided sexual services for pay.

But the economic decline in formerly communist Eastern Europe has hit women
especially hard. World Bank figures show women in Russia earn only 70
percent of men's wages for the same work and make up 70 percent of the
official unemployed.

Lyubov is not Jewish. Her customers have been Jews, Arabs and foreigners.

Raised by an alcoholic mother who was imprisoned when her daughter was two
and then a state orphanage that fell apart when the Soviet Union did,
Lyubov thinks she has little to go back to.

``There were days when I had nothing to eat,'' Lyubov said.

She weighed 50 kg (110 pounds) when she left Russia, and gained 20 kg (45
pounds) after arriving in Israel.

She said circumstances had made it hard for her to quit.

``I came into this circle and then it was very hard to get out. My papers
were fake, I had no money, I had no acquaintances and I was in an enclosed
place,'' she said, playing with dyed black hair growing out to reveal blond
roots.

The nearest police station was across the road from the apartment where
Lyubov was kept but she never went there, inhibited, like many others, by
the double bind of fear of her owner and fear of deportation.

``I kept hoping some day I would earn some money. But when they actually
caught me, I was relieved,'' she said.

She would not say which Israeli city she had worked in and asked that her
hometown and her working name not appear in print. Lyubov, her real first
name, means ``love'' in Russian.

``I made a mistake. But there are no jobs in our city. Everything is
closed,'' she said.

TRAFFICKERS EVADE JUSTICE

While trafficked women are frequently arrested as illegal workers, the men
who brought them to Israel -- many of whom are Israeli citizens -- are not.

Justice Ministry spokeswoman Etty Eshed said the government would think
about making legal changes to address trafficking in the ``near future''
but had no date or plan for doing so.

But Benziman of the Women's Network said: ``It's not a problem of finding
the right section in the criminal code. It is more a problem of finding the
women who will testify and finding the motivation.

``When it comes to drug dealing, the police don't wait for someone to come
into their office and say they have found drugs. They look for it. We
expect them to do the same thing for the trafficking of women -- but they
don't.''

Lyubov did testify against her ``owner'' and now fears for her safety when
she returns to Russia.

Her hopes for the future are simple: a small apartment, a job and a family
-- anywhere in the world but Russia.

``I am amazed at myself,'' she said. ``I still hope that the future will be
better than now.''


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